Josh Hawley defiant amid Electoral College objection backlash

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Sen. Josh Hawley’s current political troubles were fueled by President Trump, so perhaps it’s not surprising he’s now taking a page from the Trump playbook in fighting back.

The Missouri Republican’s role in leading objections to counting the Electoral College votes on Jan. 6, while and after a mob attacked Congress, has dented his standing among some voters in his home state and has ignited calls for him to be expelled from the Senate.

For some politicians it could be career-ending.

But Mr. Hawley, after an initial period of relative silence, is now taking a defiant stance, punching back with vows to fight “muzzling” by tech companies, Chinese communists and leftist activists he labeled the “woke mob.”

“He has not backed down,” said James Harris, a Missouri-based GOP strategist who served as an advisor on Mr. Hawley’s Senate campaign. “For conservatives, they are going, ‘Thank goodness Sen. Hawley is not like a typical politician.’”

Mr. Harris said the backlash against Mr. Hawley has more to do with “the threat he poses to liberals because he is the future of the Republican Party” than the attack on the Capitol, and the fact that he’s not “concerned about being popular among the D.C. cocktail circuit or the U.S. Senate.”

“To them it is an opportunity to use the unfortunate situation of Jan. 6 to blame him and try to run them out of town,” Mr. Harris said. “He is someone who is brilliant and who can articulate kind of a post-Trump conservative vision for America and the state.”

Another strategist with ties to the Trump administration said Mr. Hawley is “very purposely not playing to official Washington.”

“He’s playing to his potential voters, and he has figured that what official Washington thinks is completely irrelevant,” the strategist said.

Mr. Hawley’s crime in the eyes of official Washington was to be the first Republican to announce he would join Mr. Trump’s push to overturn the Electoral College votes cast by some states in the 2020 presidential election.

The senator’s argument was based on the Constitution, which says electors must be chosen in a matter set by state legislatures. He questioned the electors in states such as Pennsylvania, where courts or election officials, rather than the legislatures, imposed new rules last year.

Mr. Hawley then harnessed his argument to a tactic that has been used before in Congress, albeit sparingly — he objected to the Electoral College votes from several states.

The strategy was doomed from the start, given the political makeup of Congress and the size of President Biden’s victory.

But things took a worse turn when, during the counting, Mr. Trump addressed a crowd of supporters near the White House, sending them on their way to the Capitol, where some of them burst through barricades and laid siege to the House and Senate, forcing its members into hiding spaces.

After the attack, when Congress reconvened, some lawmakers who’d planned to join in the objections recanted. But Mr. Hawley and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas pushed forward, joined by a handful of House Republicans.

Mr. Hawley in recent weeks described his objections as less about overturning the election and more about raising issues of election integrity.

But a few fellow senators have laid at least some of the blame for the Jan. 6 attack on Mr. Hawley, filing an ethics complaint accusing him and Mr. Cruz of having “lent legitimacy to the mob’s cause” by pursuing the objection even after the attack.

“On his way into the Capitol, Senator Hawley raised his fist in support of protestors who had already gathered there,” the Democratic senators said in their complaint.

Mr. Hawley retaliated with an ethics complaint of his own against those senators, saying they had “peddled falsehoods about me” in order to hasten his political downfall.

Mr. Hawley’s image has taken a hit back home in Missouri, with his net approval rating among Republicans falling 9 points between Jan. 5 and Jan. 18, according to polling firm Morning Consult.

He still, however, held a 63% approval rating among Missouri Republicans and his both name-identification and approval ratings have ticked up among Republicans nationwide.

Former Sen. John Danforth, who endorsed Mr. Hawley, told The Washington Times this week he is “absolutely sick” about the role he played in the Yale Law School graduate’s political rise.

“The most terrible decision I ever made was to foist Josh Hawley on America,” Mr. Danforth said.

The 84-year-old Republican, who served from 1976 to 1995 in the Senate, said Mr. Hawley is trying to spin the events of Jan. 6 and the claim he is being muzzled reflects a “messianic view of the world” that is antithetical to American democracy.

“He is presenting this as a war between good and evil,” Mr Danforth said. “There is a conspiracy in his mind, or the way he expressed it: ‘There is a conspiracy of dark forces who are out to get you the aggrieved people that I represent and I am standing up for you, and I am speaking for you, and this is just a matter of my expressing myself, your position.’”

“It is completely bogus,” he said. “It is absolute bull.”

Political pros viewed Mr. Hawley’s objection strategy through the lens of 2024 presidential politics, saying he seemed to be betting that sidling up to Mr. Trump’s true believers was good positioning.

Mr. Cruz, who also has 2024 ambitions, joined Mr. Hawley. But Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, another 2024 aspirant, broke with them, becoming one of the most prominent conservative opponents of the objection strategy.

“When Sen. Cotton saw what Trump was saying and [that] spreading disinformation was not going to end well, he stood up and said something,” said Alice Stewart, a GOP strategist with Arkansas ties.

“I think Hawley’s response will always live large in Trump World because that is what they wanted. But I do believe that Tom’s response, being more measured and honest with the American people, has a much longer shelf-life with voters across the board, and history will look at this as a time when elected officials were not being honest, and that tends to not sit well with voters,” she said.

Mr. Hawley’s office declined to comment for this story, instead pointing a reporter to his recent op-eds, including in The New York Post where he complained of “the muzzling of America.”

“The corporate titans seem to believe that the only way to get a democracy to their liking is to eliminate all threats to the Democratic Party’s unified control of government,” Mr. Hawley said in the piece.

The senator himself told Fox News Channel host Sean Hannity that he’s being targeted for his beliefs.

“It is an unbelievable attempt by big business, big tech and the left to try to censor all dissent, to try to shut down all opposition, to try to silence half of America. And while the Democrats talk about unity in Washington, they don’t want unity, what they want total control and these big corporations are right there with them trying to achieve it. And Sean, we have to stand up and say’ we will not bow down to the mob,’” he said.

Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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